North Dakota senators voted Wednesday to more than double the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes perpetrated against minors.
House Bill 1425 generated a lengthy debate on the Senate floor before lawmakers passed it in a 31-14 vote. It's now on its way to Gov. Doug Burgum.
The bill would require prosecution of sex crimes in which the victim was less than 18 years old at the time of the offense to begin within 21 years of the crime taking place. That deadline is currently 10 years.
The bill doesn't change existing law allowing prosecutors to pursue charges within three years if there's a delay in reporting.
The bill was championed by Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgely, and his wife, who said she was sexually abused as a child but didn't come forward until the statute of limitations had passed.
Proponents have cited recent high-profile cases of sexual abuse in the church, athletic organizations and elsewhere. They argued the bill would send a message that policymakers won't tolerate child sexual abuse.
But opponents worried about infringing on the rights of people accused of crimes.
"It's a question of fundamental fairness," said Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, an attorney. "At what point do you decide that it's too hard to get a fair trial when people's memories have faded, when the evidence has disappeared?"
Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, a bill cosponsor, attempted to alleviate concerns over false claims.
"You still have to have evidence," she said. "Because of the significant emotional and psychological impacts of child sexual abuse, people often don't disclose until much later."
The bill also includes evidence preservation requirements and a provision allowing child sexual abuse victims who are over the age of 18 to request law enforcement reports about their case.